Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hekata, Maid of the Ruddy Feet

Most of you know that I do some work with Hekate.  She was very close to me when I was a young teenager; she showed up when I was about 12, and remained one of my most important spirit allies until I was about 18, when Hermes became my primary working partner.  In the last few years, I've been working with her again, beginning with her dramatic appearance during some solar work last year..

Hesiod, the poet from whom we gain our earliest knowledge of Hekate, grew up in Boetica, northwest of Athens.  His father, however, grew up in Aeolis, near modern day Izmir, on the Turkish coast near the Greek island of Chios.  My paternal line of ancestors are from the same region.  For me, it is this Hekate, Anatolian Hekate, perhaps the most ancient of Hekatim, whom I hear singing in my blood. She is closely related to (in my mind, the granddaughter/goddaughter/initiate of) Hebat, the Hittite Queen of Heaven, who might also be the Sun.
early neolithic Anatolian statue

These days, as I'm sure you've noticed, I've been doing a lot more work with smaller, more specific spirits than with huge sprawling god-concepts like Hekate.  Here are some of the particular avatars of Hekate and her current that I've been palling about with of late, and a short prayer, ritual, or practice to go with each one.  More or less everything in this post is "unverified personal gnosis".  Try them and that should sufficiently verify them.

Hekata, Maid of the Ruddy Feet 

There are many who believe, although it is very far from being a consensus view in archaeology, that red-painted feet, presumably with henna, were a feature of very early Near Eastern / Anatolian goddess worship.  I however, am not of this opinion.  Rather, I believe the dye of choice to be red ochre.  In the neolithic caves at Catahoyuk, inland from Aeolis, a human skull was found, covered in white plaster, formed into a sort of mask, forming a new nose and face.  The plaster was painted with red ochre at the forehead, nose and eyes.  (source)  In my personal practice, red ochre, mixed with fat (I usually use butter, but bear or boar fat seems like the correct thing to use, and I'd use that if I had access to it) to make a thick paste, and painted in patterns on the body, is among the most primal kinds of magic I know.  Click here for a carefully cropped, just barely non-scandalous, picture of me naked, painted in red, and wearing a mask made from the head of an American Black Bear.  Sorry for the lame bedroom background.  I didn't think to get anyone to take a picture during the actual ritual; this is afterwards.  That's why the paint is all smudged up.

Luis Alvez exhibition poster
To me, the "Maid of the Ruddy Foot" appears as a young woman of perhaps 16 or 17, through puberty, but still in the first flush of womanhood.  She is olive-skinned, and about my height (ie, short).  She carries a torch, and is sometimes accompanied, in the distance, by a large black dog.  I am not very good at having visions; she wears some kind of simple shift, linen maybe, or leather?  In any case, I've never really noticed anything important about her clothing.  Her hair, however, is very noticeable.  It is long and dark and wavy and extremely full.  Is this image of her predicated on the fact that I teach at a Jewish school, so most of the tenage girls I see have hair like that?  I don't know.  Her hair, to me, is a signifier of her wildness and power.  It is always loose, and always moving, as if being blown about by its own caressing breeze.  The girls at school call that "Hermione hair", and they go to great pains to make their hair not do that, which I do not understand AT ALL.  I think of it as Medusa Hair, and I've always wanted it, ever since I was a little girl.

The most important feature of her, however, is her feet.  They are painted solid red, great red spirals running up her legs.
From a Nepali ceremony called "Ihi Marriage"
which is completely unrelated to this.
Just a cool photo.

She is an initiator of adolescent girls, leading them by the hand as they find themselves as young
women.  While part of this is about discovering and understanding themselves as sexual creatures, it's much more about helping them learn to navigate the extraordinarily complicated, perverse, and often cruel simultaneous sexualizing and infantilization our society projects onto women of this age.  I work with her primarily when she comes to me, often asking me to particularly look after a certain student (not always the same one).  While she is protective, she is not primarily a protector spirit.  When a girl is really in trouble, this is not the form who shows up.  Red-footed Hekate is NOT a mother figure, she's more of an an older sister or a young aunt, the one who taught you to paint your toenails red, and how to kiss a boy, and how to pack a bowl.  She's a teacher, not a protector, and teaching, by its nature, challenges the learner.

Over the next few days, I'll write to you about other Hekatim I work with. Next up, Snake Grandmother.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ask a Witch: Venus Verticordia

I spoke with my friend, whom I shall call "David", although that is not his actual name, yesterday. At one point, we were talking about residual karmic ties to an unhealthy adulterous previous relationship.  After a brief reading, I understood that he had sinned against Venus Verticordia and needed to make an offering of restitution.  "Of course!  I thought t myself, "that's why she's been appearing to me.  I am the medium through which messages are delivered between her and David."  In any case, I recommended that he crush some roses, and simmer them in milk along with some honey.  The petitioner must then offer the milk to Venus Verticordia, drinking a small portion of the milk allowing Venus Verticordia to taste it with his mouth.  I will report back on results when I hear back from him.

UPDATE:  He reported that, after making the offering, he felt much better, less racked with guilt and shame and sadness, and also much less "attached".  The craving to go back to her didn't completely go away, but was also much diminished.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Unless I'm Mythtaken: Hekate is telling me a story right now...

Priestess of Delphi, Collier
Long before it belonged to Aesclepius, the serpent temple of Kos was sacred to Leto, the daughter of the Serpent of Light, the granddaughter of the Mother of Mountains.  Leto, the Swan Maiden, the midwife, the initiator of young women, had her sacred rock on Kos.  In early days, when she was young, Leto made an oath to the Mother of Mountains.  In a cave called "White Womb of the Earth", Leto swore to the Old Powers Underground that she would never give birth to a child.

Cleopatra, J. H. Waterhouse
And yet, as the years passed, as century piled upon century, Leto began to crave children.  And so she forswore her vow, and ran off with the Bull of Heaven, whose hoofbeats make the thunder.  The Mother of Mountains was angry, and forbid all the land to allow Leto to give birth.

Night, Robert Hughes

Long before it belonged to Apollo and Artemis, the sacred island of Delos was Asteria, the sister of Leto, the daughter of the Holy Mind, the son of the Starry Vault.  Asteria, the Lapis Queen, the goddess of prophetic dreams, the initiator of young men, would become the island Delos.  Asteria begged for the life of her sister, begged that she be permitted to deliver safely.  Asteria swore her own virgin daughter, Hekate, to the service of the Old Powers of the Earth in Leto's place.  And so was the Mother of Mountains appeased.

Mother and Child, Lord Leighton

And so the exchange was made; on Delos, midwifed by her sister, Leto was delivered of golden-haired twins; Artemis and Apollo.  Hekate, the black-haired virgin, was sent into the service of the Mother of Mountains.  At Ephesus, she learned the arts Leto had forsworn: midwifery and healing, wilderness and mountain herb; aconite and asphodel, cedar and crocus, fir and date palm, sweet flag and walnut, but above all, mugwort and kannabis, the sacred herbs of vision.

Rosetti, Astarte Syriaca

Years passed, centuries piled up, and Artemis, the cousin of Hekate, the virgin huntress, began to crave a daughter.  And yet, perhaps a remnant curse of her mother's broken oath, Artemis could not conceive.  Her womb lay fallow.  She grew into an accomplished healer, the goddess of midwives, but she could not bear.

Artemis, Arthur Rackham

And so Hekate, as her mother had done before her, interceded with the Mother of Mountains. She pledged herself anew to the Mother of Mountains, that the fertility of her womb, unwanted and unused, might be given to her cousin, Artemis.  In exchange, Hekate took from Artemis the gift of propecy by day, for Hekate is a goddess both dark and light.  Hekate, the deliverer of Persephone, undertook her vow at the Autumn Equinox, and in the dark of Winter, Artemis conceived.
Hekate, Maximillian Pirner

And so Artemis, the granddaughter of the Moon, gave birth at the Autumn Equinox, to a daughter.  In the East, at the ancient temple of Ephesus, midwifed by Hekate Phosphorus, Artemis nursed her infant daughter, Astraea, the goddess of Justice, the granddaughter of Themis, the inheritor of both Hekate and Artemis.
'Take the Fair Face of Woman, and Gently Suspending, With Butterflies, Flowers, and Jewels Attending, Thus Your Fairy is Made of Most Beautiful Things', Charles Ede

Friday, February 13, 2015

How To: Holy Anointing Oil

In Shemot 30:23-25 instructions are given for making holy anointing oil:

כג  וְאַתָּה קַח-לְךָ, בְּשָׂמִים רֹאשׁ, מָר-דְּרוֹר חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת, וְקִנְּמָן-בֶּשֶׂם מַחֲצִיתוֹ חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם; וּקְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם, חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם.23 'Take thou also unto thee the chief spices: of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty, and of kaneh bosem two hundred and fifty,
כד  וְקִדָּה, חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ; וְשֶׁמֶן זַיִת, הִין.24 and of cassia five hundred, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin.
כה  וְעָשִׂיתָ אֹתוֹ, שֶׁמֶן מִשְׁחַת-קֹדֶשׁ--רֹקַח מִרְקַחַת, מַעֲשֵׂה רֹקֵחַ; שֶׁמֶן מִשְׁחַת-קֹדֶשׁ, יִהְיֶה.25 And thou shalt make it a holy anointing oil, a perfume compounded after the art of the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil.

Now, you're probably asking yourself, WTF is "kannah bosem"? No one really knows. Based on my research, both mundane and with the spirits, I'm quite confident that it's cannabis (marijuana). Many prominent scholars, including the noted kabbalist and Orthodox darling Aryah Kaplan, agree with me, but this opinion is far from universal.  George Andrews writes: "In recent years, many eminent scholars have expressed the opinion that, far from being a minor or occasional ingredient, hashish was the main ingredient of the incense burned in the temples during the religious ceremonies of antiquity, and it was also routinely used in Hebrew ceremonies until the reign of King Josiah [600s BCE] when its use was suppressed." Some people (including the Greek translators of the Septuagint) think it's calamus (sweet flag). "Two Jews, three opinions." Here's some reading about it.  (Teach the controversy!)  I include both cannabis and calamus in my recipe.

2022 UPDATE: In the years since I originally wrote this, cannabis resin has been identified on several ancient altars at archaeological sites in Israel and the greater Levant, so I am now even more confident that I was in 2015.  I still include the calamus, because it acts as a fixative, helping the oil retain its scent longer.

This recipe makes an anointing oil, not a perfume oil. It is intended to be used to COAT an object or person, not to daintily dab with. I usually make about 12 oz at a time. This oil is very mildly psychoactive, because it's full of marijuana. 

In any case, this is how I make it:

With the exception of hte marijuana, I recommend using the highest quality spices you can:

  • a potions-only spice or coffee grinder (NOT one you use for food)
  • a wide-mouth glass jar
  • crockpot (optional)
  • 4 parts, myrrh
  • 2 part, cinnamon ("ceylon" cinnamon, go to a fancy spice store)
  • 2 part, calamus (sweet flag)
  • 2 part cassia (which is what's called "cinnamon" at the grocery store)
  • 1/4 parts, marijuana (obviously, I would never advise anyone to use ingredients which are illegal where they live, at least not in public)
  • 12 parts olive oil
  • 1/4 parts vitamin E oil (to retard rancidity) (This is messy and sticky and gross; be careful with it.)
  • additional olive oil

These quantities roughly, but not exactly, match those given in the Torah portion, except that I have DRAMATICALLY decreased the amount of marijuana. Marijuana has been bred for increased potency for millennia.  These days, marijuana production is the place to be in phytochemical genetics according to my bff the phytochemist/witch-doctor (2022 update: She is now a professor of botanical medicine).

If you use an ounce of modern weed in 6 ounces of oil (ie 250 shekel to 1 hin), that is WAY TOO MUCH. This oil should be very lightly psychotropic; it shouldn't have you tripping balls. The measure given is for mid-quality marijuana. The stronger the weed is, the less you should use.  If you're using trim/shake, use a little more.

Clean and prepare yourself according to your usual custom.

Bless the spices as you see fit. I usually read the 104th psalm to them, and slowly speak to each one individually, extolling its virtues and asking for its help.  "Beloved Mary Jane, Green Goddess of the hippies..." ;)

Pour oil into the jar until it is about half full. Make sure you have oil left.

Grind the ingredients, one at a time, in your grinder until they are powdered. The marijuana and cinnamons should be slowly toasted/sautéed in some oil after grinding to help release their essential oils.  You can use a mortar and pestle instead of a spice grinder, but takes forever, and does not work as well.  The finer the grind, the better.

Put the myrrh and calamus into the oil and stir. Pour in the toasted cinnamon/pot/oil mixture. Rinse the pan out with some more oil and pour that in too. Add the vitamin E oil. The jar should still be less than 2/3 full. Put the lid on tight and shake vigorously until it is well mixed. Fill the jar with oil, and put the lid back on. The less air is in the jar, the better.

Sit the jar in indirect sunlight for 2 weeks. OR Turn your crockpot to low. Put several inches of water in the crockpot, and place the (closed) jar in that. It's ok if the crockpot lid doesn't close, but you'll need to keep an eye on the water level. Warm the oil for 2-5 hours. Turn the crockpot off and let it cool.

Personally, I don't strain my oil.  All the particles settle to the bottom, and by leaving them there, the oil gets stronger and stronger, developing additional character and richness.  If I'm using it to anoint a person's skin, then I carefully strain it it when I pour it out, because being covered in unstrained oil is unpleasant and itchy.

Unless I'm Mythtaken, Hermes is telling me this story right now.....

I can't sleep, because someone is running through my head, insisting I tell you this story. The story was told to me (and to one other; you know who you are) quite some time ago, but now its for everyone. I'm sorry I'm not a better writer.

The Great Temple at Delphi, home to the Pythian Oracle, is among the holiest places in all of Greece. Long before it belonged to Apollo, the Temple belonged to Python, the Great Dragon of Mt Parnassus. In those days, every eight years, on the third day of Gemelion waxing, the Temple hosted a great contest of magic. From time immemorial, Hekate, the Queen of Witches, had always won the games. It came to pass one year, however, that Hekate did not attend, as she was Under the Earth. And so the favored contestants that year were Hermes, Lord of Games, the most quick witted of all gods, the lightbringer, the sorcerer-king, and Aphrodite, the radiant goddess of love, a Game Player extraordinaire.

The contest was fierce, and the competitors rejoiced to exercise their skill. When it came time for the final competition, the two were tied. And so Pythia proposed a final competition, a contest of love spells. Ganymede, the beautiful young cupbearer of Zeus, was to be both judge and prize. Both Hermes and Aphrodite enchanted long into the night, weaving magics both subtle and potent. They whispered incantations and they sang them. Hermes played a golden lyre. Aphrodite beat a bangled timbrel. They plied Ganymede with wine laced with philtres. They fed him the choicest morsels until his lips were shiny were shiny with butter. They painted sigils on his lithe young body in honey, wine, and blood. Ganymede's eyes glazed over with lust, and his heart beat quick with infatuation. His pupils dilated to the size of the moon, and his cock was a pillar of basalt.

The contest continued for hours that seemed like days, stretched into days that seemed like years. The air grew hazy with lust, and the crowd dissolved into frenzied orgy. Ganymede, mad with love, lost in ecstasy, rocked slowly back and forth between the sorcerers, never choosing a favorite. In the end, however, Hermes threw the match. And so Ganymede, the most beautiful of mortals, fell into the arm of the Beautiful One. And yet, Hermes cast one final love spell, and perhaps the Lord of Games won after all. He presented a gift to Aphrodite, a token of her great victory. A beautiful zither, wrought all from copper, magic woven in its strings. Aphrodite was enchanted by the beautiful lyre. And so, nine months later, Aphrodite bore a child, as dark and mysterious as her mother, as quick and as bright as his father, the genderqueer godling of alchemy, Ἑρμαφροδιτος the winged and twice-crowned.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Venus Verticordia: Changer of Hearts

Last week, I wrote to you a little bit about a teaching I received from Venus of the Red Rose. In that post, I showed the painting (by Dante Rossetti) below, titled Venus Verticordia.  Like many Rossetti paintings, this one has a poem that goes with it.

She hath the apple in her hand for thee,
   Yet almost in her heart would hold it back;
   She muses, with her eyes upon the track
Of that which in thy spirit they can see.
Haply, ‘Behold, he is at peace,’ saith she;
   ‘Alas! the apple for his lips,—the dart 
   That follows its brief sweetness to his heart,—
The wandering of his feet perpetually!’

A little space her glance is still and coy;
   But if she give the fruit that works her spell, 
Those eyes shall flame as for her Phrygian boy.
   Then shall her bird's strained throat the woe foretell,
   And her far seas moan as a single shell,
And through her dark grove strike the light of Troy.

Verticordia is a kind of flower, and I thought that they were the kind in the front of the photo.  Having further examined the painting, I no longer think so.  

However, I have come to find out that Venus Verticordia is a late Roman avatar of Venus. From Wikipedia: "Likewise, a shrine to Venus Verticordia ("Venus the changer of hearts"), established in 114 BC but with links to an ancient cult of Venus-Fortuna, was "bound to the peculiar milieu of the Aventine and the Circus Maximus" - a strongly plebeian context for Venus's cult, in contrast to her aristocratic cultivation as a Stoic and Epicurian "all-goddess". (similar to the distinction between Aphrodite Pandemos and Aphrodite Ouranos)

I know very little about classical Venus Verticordia, but here is what I have learned:

She was a goddess of sexual propriety.  Her temple was first established as a sin offering to "make up" for the unchastity of three Vestal Virgins.  She encourages marriage and punishes licentiousness.  Her sacred drink: milk, honey, and poppies, was drunk by women on their wedding night "and from that moment forward, they are a bride".

This is all a bit troubling to me, and I am still puzzling out what such a goddess looks like in our modern world.  In fact, that broad idea, about how we understand the sexual aspects of classical mythology, has been on my mind for some time.  Is Zeus really a serial rapist?  Is he "just" a player?  Does "rape" mean having sex with a woman without her father/husband's permission? What do we make of Aphrodite's infidelity, in the context of her having been "sold" to a husband she did not choose?  Perhaps Venus Verticordia can help me sort all of this out.

In any case, at first glance, the painting and the poem seem likewise at odds with their name.  When it was first exhibited,  (1886), this painting was understood to be extremely avant garde.  John Ruskin, Rossetti's somewhat conservative bff and the preminant art critic of the day, HATED this painting; it was the end of their friendship The poem is very clearly about the "bewitching" power of women.  In the poem, Venus is hesitant to use this power.  The painting was made just as Victorian sexual mores were starting to be questioned.  This Venus Verticordia is not a beautiful woman, by Victorian standards; her features are too strong and she is not smiling.  This painting is a strong statement by Rossetti; with it, he stakes out a position that confidence and power are beautiful and sexy.

I am not sure what to make of Venus Verticordia's emphasis on marriage and "lawful" sexuality.  Probably because my own notions of "lawfulness" when it comes to sexuality are poisoned by Christian patriarchy.  When seen in that way, Venus Verticordia's insistence on sexual "virtue" seems at odd with the lush, primal sexuality I got from Venus of the Red Rose.  However, if I understand "lawful" to mean "consensual" then it all starts to click together.  I just don't know.  I'm working on it.

Here is something I do know, Venus Verticordia is a great lover and protectress of those who are the victims of coercive, exploitative, violent, or otherwise harmful sex.  Further, she is the right spirit to absolve one, when there is real regret and restitution, of guilt on such matters.  (I don't mean she'll necessarily forgive every rapist, but I think many of us have had sex that we have come to feel wasn't "right", for whatever reason.)

UPDATE: Venus Verticordia has since taught me more about how she can help, and given me a recipe for a bath.  More details here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Color Theory for Magicians: A teaching from Venus of the Red Rose

I did a lot of work with Helios this weekend, for Candlemass (or Imbolc, or Groundhogs Day, or whatever we're calling it these days).  Because of the nature of solar work, I got a lot of insights and inspirations, but they're still in need of facting up, and most of them were personal (ie, about my own life).  However, I did receive one teaching that I was asked to make public, so I'm trying to do so here.  It's not really very clear yet.  Sorry for the poor explanation.

There are VERY traditional color associations between the Seven Celestial Powers and the Colors.  In some cases, it was these associations that led to the association of the planet with its name. (for example, Mars) They are as follows (with my guesses to reasons)

Moon=Purple (?)
Mercury=Orange (because cinnabar?)
Venus=Green (because ocean?)
Sun=Yellow (because obviously)
Mars=Red (because blood)
Jupiter=Blue (because sky)
Saturn=Black (because night)
Stars=White (because stars=white)
Earth=Black (because underground)

UPDATE:  Jason Miller says: "Venus=green because of the green plants that beautify the earth. (angel name removed because reasons) was in charge of that according to some stories."

UPDATE: I had a fascinating conversation with Ivo Dominguez Jr this morning (9/3/2015) about the color associations of the sefirot in Hermetic kabbalah, which is also relevant here.  He shared this animation, which I really like:

Finally, if you don't remember how color mixing works from elementary school art class, you should go google "color theory".

Venus Verticordia, Dante Rosetti
Venus Verticordia, by Dante Rosetti
The teaching that follows was communicated to to me by a spirit who called herself Venus of the Red Rose.  Her presence was quite lush, and very sensual, and announced itself by an almost overpoweringly heady smell of damask roses and a red glow.

I am not very visual, and I didn't get much of an impression of what she looked like, but here's a painting that has the right feeling to me.

UPDATE:  I've now had much more contact with this goddess.  See here and here.

Here is the underlying message behind what she taught me:  When working with opposing forces, you can't mix them, because it will end up as ugly mud.  Instead, you want to play them off each other, to create contrast.  We do that by swapping the color associations across the spectrum from their traditional associations.  For example, to work with Mars and Venus to attract male lovers, I was instructed to work with Venus of the Red Rose.  By allowing an avatar of one sphere to the "wear" the color of another, you can combine influence without "muddying the waters".  This opens up 49 traditional cross-planetary combos, called, in Judaism, "The 49 Gates of Wisdom".

I was taught a few other complementary combinations:

  • Golden Crowned Phoebe shades Moon with Sun, and grants insight of the Unseen, Clarity of Dream, and Shimmering Radiance
  • Dr. Manhattan (I don't think it was Dr. Mahattan; I'm just calling it that because of the colors).  I had a lot of trouble getting a feel for this spirit.)  is Mercury with the confidence and surety of Jupiter; he grants superhuman intelligence (which comes with some drawbacks!)  He also teaches "quantum relativistic space time" magics, but only to people who know math! :)
  • The Heirophant or the Pontefix (Jupiter clothed in orange) is all about the "authority of the teacher"
  • Hekate of the White Star is a cthonic goddess, the Lady Underground, wearing her mother's crown.  She grants prophetic dreams.

I was also taught more complicated combinations, for example how using 2 out of three triadic colors (red and blue without yellow, purple and green without orange) gives you a very physical "of the world" manifestation of the missing color, but perhaps one that is missing it's "higher" aspects.  So, for example, red and blue together give a sort of "truthiness" version of the Sun, all power and shine and moral certainty, while perhaps lacking divine grace and complexity. (Like Superman)

Similarly, green and purple give you an avatar of Mercury whose practical intellect, untempered by wisdom and empathy, has made them cruel and perhaps mad. (like The Joker)

I know this wasn't the clearest of teachings; it's still very numinous in my head.  I will continue to fact it up and return to it.

In particular, on Saturday February 21st (which is my birthday) Venus and Mars are in almost perfect conjunct.  I'm planning magic with Venus of the Red Rose and hopefully also Mars Silvanus (especially if I can scrounge up a partner).  I'll keep you posted.